The Gatepost has been researching and reporting for a series of articles that explore the religious life of students on our college campus.
In our research, it has become apparent that many students are unaware of the religious resources available. Most students interviewed didn’t know where the Campus Ministry office was, or who held office hours there. Many students didn’t even know we had a Campus Ministry.
Why don’t students, even students who identify as religious, make use of these professionals who take time out of their busy lives to volunteer at our campus?
Part of the reason is that religion is something that some seem to find uncomfortable to talk about. People are taught that it’s impolite to bring up religion or ask others questions about a religion they are not themselves a part of.
If someone doesn’t understand the topic they’re asking about, they might have some anxiety around asking the right questions in the right way.
But what we’ve also learned in our research is that plenty of students are actually happy to have the opportunity to speak about their beliefs and their traditions, and explain to someone both the best and most challenging aspects of their religion. A lot of students welcomed the chance to be asked hard questions and really consider what they truly believe.
So why, really, are people afraid to talk about religion?
When we discuss diversity, we tend to focus on race, gender and sexuality – which are all obviously extremely important facets of a person’s identity, and are essential for the community to understand in order to increase tolerance and acceptance. But we should be careful to not let religious expression fall to the wayside in our efforts to increase understanding and tolerance for other aspects of diversity on this campus.
That’s why it’s so important to start having conversations with friends, faculty and administrators about what we each believe in respectful and honest discussions.
Candid conversations are the first step in increasing education and awareness about others’ cultures and beliefs, which will lead to more understanding, acceptance and comfort with things that used to seem unfamiliar to other community members.
Additionally, last semester, a student requested a space to pray for members of the community who are Muslim. By the end of this semester, an Interfaith Prayer Center should be open and available to anyone on campus who wants to use it, according to Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Sean Huddleston.
This immediate response from the administration shows that they are interested in what students want as resources and are willing to give space, money and attention to making them available for students. But we need to ask for it.
This weekend, while some community members will be celebrating Passover, others will be celebrating Easter and others still will be enjoying a weekend of nice weather, begin conversations with those in your community about your beliefs and listen to theirs.
Think about what religious resources might be missing on campus and take action to raise awareness, and ask for them.
It is another step toward making this campus a place where everyone can feel at home.